Scientific instruments are devices, machines and types of equipment and apparatus designed for use in the fields of testing and applying scientific principles. They are used in one form or another in all scientific disciplines such as medicine, chemistry, physics and biology, and usually have a particular form and function designed through a need to apply a specific action.
Antique and vintage scientific instruments are popular collectible items as they can be displayed as interesting decorative items, as well as offering an insight into the development of science through the ages.
The range of instruments is vast; the terms can cover anything from antique brass microscopes, thermometers and barometers to clockwork orreries and unusual medical instruments.
Many collectors will focus on a particular area such as a particular type of instrument, or those from a certain time period. Popular categories include optical, navigational and astronomical instruments.
In most categories, collectors prefer examples from before the 1920s, as models were more varied and less common.
17th and 18th century instruments were hand-made and expensive as the world of science was, for the most part, the domain of wealthy gentlemen.
Items such as lacquered brass and mahogany telescopes were far beyond the reach of the common man, and they were produced in relatively small numbers.
In many cases mathematicians and astronomers were attached to a royal household, and their equipment was built by the finest craftsmen using the best quality materials (and often ornately decorated).
There is a large market for collectible scientific instruments with a number of organisations and dedicated dealers.
There are also guide publications available for those interested in the subject, featuring advice on collecting and how to spot fake and reproduction pieces which appear regularly on the market.
History of collecting scientific instruments
Collections of scientific instruments originated as part of Renaissance collections of 'naturalia' and 'artificialia'.
Surveying and astronomical instruments were common in such collections, their role being to impress visitors by displaying the power that a ruler acquired through the control of nature.
They were displayed alongside animal, plant and mineral specimens, cultural artefacts and works of art in collections known as a ‘cabinet of curiosities’, which were built by wealthy figures, naturalists and philosophers.
The Renaissance Period brought with it a spirit of scientific curiosity, as people sought to understand the world around them in a more ordered manner.
Microscopes, telescopes and barometers were all developed during the 17th century, and as the Age of Enlightenment dawned in the 18th century a strong belief in rationality and science led to the development of instruments with which to examine the natural world.
The 19th century saw developments in classification and categorisation, and all scientific fields from physics to medicine took large strides forward.
Teaching colleges and universities found more prominence and as the century progressed the scientific tools used became less ornate and more functional.
Types and manufacturers
Other notable scientific instruments
Main article: List of notable scientific instruments
Notable scientific instrument collections and collectors
Main article: List of notable scientific instrument collections
Scientific instrument dealers
Main article: List of scientific instrument dealers
Clubs and societies
Main article: List of scientific instrument collectors' clubs and societies
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